I was sitting with my friend, Dan, in a sports-themed eatery in a suburb north of San Francisco, enjoying a patty melt complemented by a Black and Tan.
Adorning the walls and hanging from the ceiling were uniforms from the various Bay Area sports teams—the Sharks, Warriors, 49ers, A’s and the team whose home opener was being aired across the assortment of big-screen TVs mounted upon the walls, the Giants.
At the bar was a small gathering of guys clad in uniform shirts and ball caps bearing an over-lapping S and F, the insignia of the San Francisco Giants. At the moment they were vehemently arguing with the TV screen over a close play at the plate that went against their home team.
Their brouhaha caught my attention so I looked over at them and that’s when I noticed a fellow walking by the bar wearing a black Tshirt that bore a white sock within a white diamond outline on its sleeve.
“A Sox fan in San Francisco?”, I wondered to myself.
I finished my fare and went up front to use the facilities. When I departed the Gents room with cleaner hands and lighter bladder, the guy in the black Tshirt was sitting at the corner of the bar. The front of his shirt was indeed adorned with the logo of our south side baseball team. He also sported a Sox cap.
We were in San Fran…
Emboldened by my stout and ale imbibement, I stopped and confronted him.
“How is it they allow a Sox fan in here?” I asked.
He chuckled and replied, “It’s not easy.”
Wishing not to give the appearance that I was admonishing him for his attire and allegiance, I quickly added, “I’m just kidding you. I live in Chicago.”
He looked at me and said “Oh, a Cubs fan, eh?”
WTF, man? Does the entire country think that everyone from Chicago is a Cubs fan?
I responded, this time with a trace of admonishment in my voice, “I grew up on the south side.”
He brightened up and gushed, “Me too! My name’s Paco!” and he extended his hand.
We tend to be a leery lot but us second class citizens of Chicago baseball fandom can always count on sticking together in the end.
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Batter Up…
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It was about 3:00 AM, when my phone blew up.
I awoke from a dream that I had Frank Thomas’ home run cut and Bobby Jenks’ hundred-mile-an-hour heater. “The Natural” they called me.
“Hello,” I mumbled into the wrong end of my smartphone.
“You’re past deadline on a baseball post.”
“Benny Jay, don’t you ever sleep?” I asked my editor at The Third City.
I was expecting this call and dreading it. I wasn’t even a regular on the blog, only something called a Guest Blogger. But a short while back I was in the Third City mailroom, postmarking all the bad checks and dealing out the smut magazines to the staff.
I’d finally made it out of there and I wasn’t going back.
“You don’t want me to send you back to the mail room do ya?” Benny growled. “Get me that post, kid!”
Guest Blogger was a tough racket.
The truth was I had nothing. I was on the baseball beat for the blog and I hadn’t seen a ballgame in more than a week.
The fact that the Third City gig paid bupkes required I work a nine-to-five as a schlep in a labor union office. The Major League Baseball scheduling brainiacs hadn’t done me any favors, arranging that the White Sox and Cubs played day games for most of the first week.
There were a few that weren’t but I’d spent those nights at Moe’s Place, drinking whiskey sodas and chasing them with sour grapes.
On Sunday I woke up from my Roy Hobbs dream followed by my Benny Jay nightmare, called my bookie and laid a sawbuck on the Pale Hose. I flipped the box to the White Sox, sat back, relaxed, and strapped it down.
Damn it was good to watch baseball again. It was like a cruel mistress who’d wronged you a thousand times, only to set your eyes on fire when she returned to break your heart all over again.
Benny Jay and Chris go over some copy…
Cabrera got things going against Minnesota in the first, with a single up the middle.
Abreu, LaRoche, and Garcia followed suit with base hits of their own, scoring one. It could have been more but we lost one on the base paths when Abreu was thrown out going for third. Then Ramirez roped a double and the Sox tallied another.
Making his first start of the season, Sale looked sharp on the bump. He gave up a run in the third, but was always in control, striking out eight and walking only one on the day.
In the bottom of the third LaRoche hit the big fly over the centerfield wall. The Sox had a two run lead and seemed to be cruising.
But they ran into some trouble in the top of the eighth. Eaton broke back on a shallow fly and couldn’t recover before it dropped in front. And Abreu threw home late on a slow grounder instead of taking the sure out at first.
Duke kept his cool on the mound and the damage to a minimum. The Sox were up three to two through seven and a half.
In the bottom of the eighth the Sox broke it open. Garcia and Ramirez came through with hits again and another score. Then Beckham, a ham and egger, got a spinner and knocked it out for good measure.
Robertson came on to finish it in the ninth, mowing down the Twins one-two-three for a White Sox winner, six to two.
By the end of the game I was inspired. My fingers ablaze on the keyboard, I wrote with one eye on the laptop and one on the smartphone. I was expecting another call from Benny with orders to report to the mailroom.
Go, Sox, go…
I finished and emailed the post to The Third City. Five minutes later the phone vibrated. It was Benny Jay.
I picked up.
“Did you get it?” I asked.
“Not half bad.”
“We good then?”
“Yah, we’re good.” Benny paused.
“Sorry about the mailroom talk. I know you got the chops kid. Just don’t make me chase you down for copy.”
“Sure Benny,” I said and tried to mean it.
Then I walked out the door, locked the deadbolt and headed to Moe’s for some whiskey and sour grapes.
Editor’s Note: Chris‘ last post for The Third City was Wait, Wait…
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Baseball season is upon us and I find my thoughts drifting back to a forgotten ballplayer from the 1970s.
I don’t recall his name. It was Daltry or Daugherty or Delancey — something like that but I do remember his nickname.
It was Dart.
He was a pitcher and the epithet was hung on him because he threw so hard that the ball flew by the batter like a dart, nestling in the bullseye of the catcher’s mitt.
Dart was one of those rocket-armed phenoms, signed out of high school and on the mound for his major league debut before he was nineteen years of age. An auspicious debut it was because he threw a one hit shutout. It was a great beginning for what many baseball insiders predicted would be a Hall of Fame career.
Unfortunately, his sudden notoriety also piqued the interest of the Draft Board.
The Viet Nam War was still going on and Dart had wanted no part of it. When he received his induction papers into the United States Army, he simply ignored them.
When the authorities finally came sniffing around for him, Dart hightailed it to Canada. He officially became a “draft dodger”.
Despite his ignominious retreat, the kid was so talented that it was hard for at least one major league owner to ignore it. He wasn’t in Canada very long before he was signed by the Montreal Expos and added to the roster.
Even though he could only pitch in games played at their home field in Montreal, the management felt he was well worth his spot on the team since he was so damned good. He rewarded their risky confidence by winning the majority of games that he pitched there.
You might know it, but–Mr. Siergey loves baseball!
Other owners, as well as the U.S. Government, were outraged that this draft-dodging unpatriotic son of a bitch should be allowed to successfully play an all-American game on Canadian soil. Even the great Muhammad Ali was stopped from plying his trade for refusing induction. The prevailing thought was that Dart must be punished.
Despite legal as well as clandestine attempts to remove him, the youngster continued to pitch season after season for the Expos in his limited but triumphant role as a home field hurler. Then, in 1977 President Jimmy Carter declared amnesty, pardoning all the draft-dodgers.
Dart could now pitch openly on American soil.
His return debut was scheduled to take place at Shea Stadium in New York. But on the day before the highly anticipated game, disaster struck. Dart was viciously attacked and beaten. His left arm was stomped on, twisted and broken in several places.
Conspiracy theories abound. Some say it was an enraged fan, an avid supporter of the conflict in Viet Nam, who did it. Others say it was a thug hired by a patriotically incensed owner of a baseball team. Maybe even the commissioner himself, to save the dignity of the game, arranged this heinous act.
However, whoever attacked Dart was either not a baseball fan or just didn’t know his left from right. Dart was a right-handed pitcher. His mangled left arm would not affect his throwing.
The public disgust for this vile act combined with the unifying efforts of a post-war nation (not to mention the aspect of losing the extraordinary talents of Dart to grease the turnstiles at ballparks all across the country) compelled Major League Baseball to come up with an unusual compromise.
Since Dart’s left arm was in a cast, leaving him helpless to field a ball hit back at him, he was allowed to pitch that season with the assistance of a “helper monkey”.
The little capuchin would sit atop Dart’s shoulder and serve as his “mitt”. Coincidentally and quite aptly, the monkey’s name was Mitzi.
Mitzi turned out to be quite an adept fielder. So adept that she won a Gold Glove.
Opposing base runners rarely took a long lead off from first base or tried to steal because the ever vigilant anthropoid would secretly squeeze the nape of Dart’s neck, letting him know that the time was ripe for a pick-off throw.
Dart successfully pitched all that season with a cast on his arm and a monkey on his shoulder. He was voted the top pitcher in the league and bestowed with the Cy Young award. Privately, the team gave Mitzi an MVP award—Most Valuable Primate.
Publicly, Mitzi the helper monkey reveled in her new-found celebrity. She appeared at store openings, on magazine covers and television programs. She even did a stint co-hosting the Mike Douglas Show.
Dart was busy that winter too. The cast came off and he worked diligently at rehabilitating his injured wing. By the time spring rolled around, his arm was all healed, fully flexible and mobile. He no longer needed the assistance of Mitzi so he bid farewell to his little friend.
This did not bode well for either of them.
Dart was discovered one morning in his hotel room, strangled to death. Tiny fingerprints were found around his throat. The suspect list consisted of one.
The theory is that Mitzi had become so enamored of her fame that when she was unceremoniously dumped and removed from the public spotlight, the sensitive simian simply went bananas. She showed her dissatisfaction by choking the life out of her former companion.
Embarrassed by how they handled his entire career, Major League Baseball decided that it would be in their best interest to erase all mention of Dart from the record books. They believed that the scar of time would heal over the deception and the exploits of the draft-dodging, monkey-helpered pitcher would eventually be forgotten.
But some of us remember. Oh yes, some of us remember.
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Time, Time, Time…
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I’m sure this epithet has been spewed forth by every generation that has hung around long enough to spew it, “What the fuck happened?”
Once I was invincible with the world on a string, my own personal yo-yo to toy with as I wished. Time was on my side, I lived for today, I grabbed for the gusto, I did not fear the reaper, tomorrow was another day, lah de dah. Then, the next thing I knew, my bathroom mirror had been hijacked by an old person.
“What the fuck happened?”
Another universal statement uttered by every person who has reached an age that can no longer be considered young is “I don’t think of myself as being as old as I am.”
When I was a kid I would hear the old folks trot that line out every now and then. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time but it does now.
Ignoring all the ignominies that come with aging such as the swiftness that is slowing, the vision that is evaporating, the knees that creak, the joints that ache, the grunts and groans that accompany every movement—I still think of myself as being eighteen years old and am constantly surprised to realize that I am not.
Time has been called many things — an old devil, a river, a thief, a healer, an arrow, a teacher and money…as well as a magazine. If you want to be poetic, and I do, you can say that Time is an endless highway on a moonless night.
But for each of us, out ahead in that darkness, a dead end awaits.
That stretch between roaring lionhood with bared fangs and sharpened claws to toothless mewling is shorter than one thinks. Unfortunately, we all seem to learn that truism when we find ourselves saying “What the fuck happened?”
In the meantime, in between time, all you youngsters out there, take somewhat to heart these words from an old chestnut of a tune,
“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”
You can take that to the bank. Now, where’s my goddamn Metamucil?
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was The Ancient Guild…
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After a day’s work, people like to blow off steam, relax and reassemble themselves. There are many ways to go about this.
Some go for exercise, like an invigorating, sweat-laden game of handball, racquetball or basketball. Some don their jogging attire and embark upon pounding the pavement, dodging pedestrians and potholes. Still others clamp a helmet upon their head, squeeze into tight shorts and pedal a bicycle down the mean streets of the city, dodging car doors, open manholes and rabid dogs.
Others relax by taking in a movie, reading a book, listening to or playing music, doing some gardening, tending to their stamp or baseball card collection or just zoning out in front of the television. But most people merely head to their favorite watering hole and DRINK!
Alcohol imbibement is one of humanity’s oldest and most popular activities. The ancient Greeks and Romans reveled in wine-laden orgies. Drink produced babbling Babylonians, piflicated Phoenicians, messed up Mesopotamians, blitzed Byzantines, snookered Sumerians, Egyptians who could no longer walk like Egyptians and so on and so forth in a not very straight timeline of ancient civilizations.
I’m sure that prehistoric man concocted some sort of hooch from an assortment of roots and berries and snake venom. Nothing gets you going in the morning like a little hair of the Cenozoic bear dog.
When I worked at the harp shop, a group of us would gather after work on Wednesdays at a tavern in Old Town called Marge’s. We called ourselves “The Ancient Guild of Harp Makers”. Not all of us were harp makers per se. Some were carvers, some were regulators, some, like me, were gilders but each and every man jack of us worked in some capacity at the Lyon & Healy Harp Shop.
However, we did not gather at Marge’s Tavern solely to drink. Oh, no. We also gathered there to sing.
One of the harp makers, Pat, would bring his banjo. The rest of us would write songs, to the tune of old standards like On Top of Old Smokey, Working on the Railroad, She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain, Tiptoe Thru the Tulips, etc. but with new lyrics, all about working at the harp shop.
There was a little back room where we would gather, a dozen of us, sometimes more, sometimes less, and drink pitchers upon pitchers of beer while singing our lubricated lungs out while Pat strummed and plucked on the old banjo.
Once in a while, one of the other Guild members would bring a guitar along for accompaniment. Sometimes, a harmonica or a recorder was added to the mix. Anyone was free to bring along any instrument they wanted but we did draw the line at panpipes.
After a while, we stretched out from rewriting lyrics to old standards and began rewriting lyrics to newer standards. One night we did a rousing, energetic performance of rewritten lyrics to “The Weight”, complete with four part harmony. We really emptied the joint out that night.
I think we emptied that joint out every Wednesday night. When one walks into a bar and hears a banjo and a bevy of drunken voices bellowing in various tones, notes and pitches emanating from the back room, one isn’t likely to linger any longer than it takes to down a shot of Wild Turkey.
Despite our racket, we were never asked to leave or even hush our tones by the owners of the establishment. I think we consumed enough beer to cover any business that might be lost by any departing music lovers. Plus, we might have looked a little scary. We certainly sounded scary.
Those days are long gone but, still, whenever I hear a song by The Band being played I think fondly back to “The Ancient Guild of Harp Makers” and quietly belch.
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Arty Facts…
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In Part I of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Kill Yourself…” we were living in a permafrost hell dreaming of Arizona sun and a Cubs world championship. Now that we’ve thawed out a bit in Chicago, here’s a White Sox preview.
As always there’s a lot of pressure on the White Sox to win this season, because with one World Series trophy in 98 years, the Sox are the baseball team with the championship pedigree in this town.
But White Sox spring camp began on a sour note when fans learned that ace Chris Sale had fractured his right foot. Sale claims to have injured himself stepping off his truck but didn’t provide much in the way of details.
Well, The Third City is here to shed light on this murky story.
Because he carries himself like a mild-mannered top-of-the-rotation starter and he’s built like a pretzel rod, most people are unable to piece together that Sale doubles as intergalactic crime fighter The Amazing Sailman. His get-up involves a lot of awkwardly protruding masts and jibs, but when there’s a good tailwind, he can really move.
This offseason Sailman was busy undermining a diabolical plot masterminded by his nemesis Professor Doomsday. Using a giant proton ray gun aimed at all the world’s house pets, Doomsday planned to vaporize the little buggers sending all of humankind into a collective depression. The mad Professor then would be able to catch everyone off guard, corner the world soybean market, and use the spoils as his launching pad to intergalactic domination.
Sox fans wanted this from Chris Sale…
Sailman arrived just in time to foil the plan, confronting Doomsday on his spaceship about to trigger the ray gun. As Sailman lunged at his arch enemy, he tripped over the Professor’s cat, Evil Felix. Concerned about his feline sidekick, Professor Doomsday became distraught, allowing Sailman the opportunity to knock him out cold with a boom, saving the world and the galaxy.
In the end, alter-ego Chris Sale’s fractured foot was a small price to pay.
Speaking of paying up, after miserable campaigns in ’13 and ‘14, General Manager Rick Hahn and the White Sox decided to throw money at the problem. This offseason, the Sox spent more than $130 million in free agent acquisitions.
The White Sox can spend big after eight straight years of declining attendance because their ballpark is mortgaged and maintained by the people of the State of Illinois while the team operates virtually rent and tax free. This devilish scheme sounds like the stuff of comic book fiction but it’s not. But hey, at least Jerry Reinsdorf isn’t getting all of that public dough and rolling out the Astros!
Among the free agent pick-ups is Dominican slugger Melky Cabrera, known as “Melk Man” or “Leche” (which is Spanish for “finally, a two-hole hitter!”). Cabrera was suspended 50 games for performance-enhancing drug use in 2012. In other words, Melky’s got the good stuff. And while the Sox ranked 9th in extra base hits in MLB last season, and so weren’t exactly a team of weaklings, I would look for them to improve in this area.
Also arriving are closer David Robertson, who once struck out the Whammer on three pitched balls, and first-base/DH Adam LaRoche, who is old but pretty good. The Sox traded for former Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija, who replaces A.J. Pierzynski as the White Sox player whose name dimwit bloggers like me always have to Google how to spell.
I’d be remiss to conclude a White Sox preview without mention of the Cuban colossus, Jose Abreu. Women want him and men want to be him. And those who don’t, that’s cool too. But after a monster rookie season Abreu is poised to set the league afire, blazing a path of scorched earth for the White Sox to the Promised Land!
Editor’s Note: Chris‘s last post for The Third City was the abovementioned Part I…
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Previously, Matt left his job to find new work as a lawyer, and then promptly messed up his knee, playing basketball, and then he had knee surgery…
A string of fifty-degree days hit Chicago last week, finally melting the snow and ice that had made it difficult for me (and my surgically repaired left knee) to hobble around the block.
With spring in the air late Friday afternoon, I decided to go for a walk while the sun was still shining. Before heading outside, I opened my first-floor closet door to grab a light jacket. In the back of that closet, I spotted an old cane that was sandwiched between some winter coats.
Looking for any excuse to ditch my crutches, I pulled out the gun-metal gray cane, which looked to be a standard-issue medical supply store device, and quickly adjusted its length to fit my frame.
It was when I made that adjustment that I noticed the identification sticker on the cane:
Margaret M. Cunningham–7422 N. Oakley Ave.Chicago, IL 60645-1910
I first met Peg Cunningham about thirteen years ago, shortly after my family moved into our house in West Rogers Park. It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and Peg had just parked her silver Toyota in front of the house two doors west of ours. She got out of the car and began unloading some groceries that were in her trunk.
I was sitting on my front steps strumming an acoustic guitar. I’d not yet met all my neighbors, so I walked over to Peg and introduced myself. Since she looked to be in her early eighties, I also asked if I could help carry her groceries.
So began a wonderful friendship.
Peg & Samantha…
As we carried her bags into the house, Peg told me she didn’t live there. Her younger sister did. Peg, however, grew up in that house before World War II and had lived there until she got married.
She told me she still lived in the neighborhood, five or six blocks from me, and regularly visited her sister, who was battling dementia and was able to remain in the house only because she had full-time nursing care.
Peg and I talked for almost an hour. She told me she was a retired CPS teacher. Her kids were grown and she now lived by herself, having been widowed some twenty years earlier.
She was a charming woman. I fell for her immediately. She was smart, funny and kind. I gave her my phone number and told her she could count on my wife and me if she or her sister ever needed help.
From that point on, we saw Peg on our block once or twice a week until late 2006, when her sister passed away. By then, my wife and I had grown quite close to Peg, who had also taken a serious liking to my youngest daughter, Samantha, who was four years old.
Over the next five years, Peg became a fixture in our lives – a frequent dining companion, a regular at my music gigs, and (for all practical purposes) another grandmother to my youngest daughter. Peg knew she could call our house at all hours if she ever needed anything.
As Samantha got older, she and Peg became thick as thieves. Peg and Samantha would regularly urge my wife and me to go out on Friday or Saturday night just to provide an excuse for Samantha to stay overnight at Peg’s house.
I never figured out whether Peg or Samantha had more fun on those overnight visits. Peg taught Samantha how to play poker. Samantha taught Peg how to use the internet. The two of them played the piano, watched old movies, and always had a ball together.
In January 2012, Peg phoned me on a frigid Saturday morning because she wanted to go to the hospital. My family and I raced over to her house. When we got there, Peg was dressed and ready to go. She looked weak and was hardly able to stand, even with the aid of a cane.
I tried to get her from the front door of her house to my car, but she was too frail to walk, and the ground was too icy for me to carry her. I called the fire department and an ambulance brought Peg to the hospital. My wife and my daughter took her cane and her purse and headed home. I took her keys and her wallet, called her son (who lived in the far north suburbs), and followed the ambulance to the hospital.
Peg passed away in that hospital a few days later. I was honored to be a pallbearer at her funeral. Samantha still has a handwritten note from Peg on her desk. The woman was one-of-a-kind, and my family and I talk about her often.
And until last Friday afternoon, I had no idea Peg’s cane was in my house. It made my slow-motion walk around the block extra special.
Editor’s Note: Matt‘s last post for The Third City was The Unemployment Diaries–Part Five.